Training and Consulting

Which is Needed When? 

(A Note for Potential Clients) 

If you are an internal Training Director or Human Resource Lead looking to hire a  training resource, this open note might turn out to be useful to you. I hope so. . .

Training: Knowledge, Skill and Structure 

A training program is usually intended to impact individual participants’ knowledge about some subject of importance to the organization, like conflict or leadership or  communication. With this focus, information is presented, hopefully in experiential ways,  where people are involved in activities that generate felt need for the knowledge or  concepts. When the event is over, participants will KNOW THINGS they did not know  beforehand—or it will help make what they did know more vivid or useful. 

Quite often training also intends to increase individual participant’s skill in an area,  e.g. conflict, leadership of communication. This means that applying experiential learning  principles is even more important, as well as lots of practice and feedback—the only way  skills are improved. When this kind of training is over, individual participants will know how  to DO THINGS better than they did when they came in the door. 

The third focus of training, structure, is the one that has the most direct impact on  the organization (or sub-group, like a team or department) and its performance. An  intervention of this kind is not actually training, but begins to move into another approach,  which I am calling ‘consulting’ here. Quite often this approach does involve some training,  but the focus is not so much on improving the ability of the individuals, but on making  changes to the way the system does what it does. When this intervention is over, THE  SYSTEM DOES THINGS BETTER, and by-the-way, it also adds to the knowledge and skill of  participants.  

Individuals and the System 

Training almost always has an impact on individual participants. Good training has  profound impact on individual participants. GREAT training, however, is training that  happens inside a (consulting) context of a long-term, strategic process intending system wide impact. It is an intervention aimed at resolving some business/operational problem or  challenge – or achieving some possibility for the organization or a sub-system. This kind of  ‘hard’ business result requires a different kind of initiative – and conversation. Because the  problem or challenge being addressed does not only exist inside individuals—or even within the group being trained—but between groups and levels, in the way things are getting  done, the way decisions are made, the relevance of processes and procedures, the clarity  and presence of roles and goals.  

Quite often, a problem showing up in work group A turns out to be caused by things  happening – or not happening – in groups B, C & D. Like many health problems, the issue  you are being asked to help resolve is actually a symptom of other dynamics in that larger  system.  

Also, a training program, no matter how powerful, rarely impacts this deeper  systemic reality. We have a saying in my field, ‘The organization’s DNA (culture) will eat  your training program for lunch every time’. 

What is needed may be an intervention aimed directly at the system’s DNA,  something designed to ‘change the game’ in the organization. For this to happen, there  have to be sustainable changes created in things like: 

• Policies and procedures (what are they attempting to ensure) 

• Reward or Incentives (what are they reinforcing) 

• Interactions between organizational units and levels (how ‘straight’ they are with  each other) 

• Communication – up, down and sideways (how honest and frequent it is)

• Problem-solving (or, as we prefer to look at it, ‘breakthrough action-planning’)

• Decision-making (where authority is located and how clear the process is to people)

• Accountability (the consequences for high and low performance) 

• Leadership (how well the energy in the system is being aimed and sustained). The following matrix might help:

 T R A I N I N G C O N S U L T I N G 

Primary Focus of  Intended ImpactThe Individual, with hoped-for spill over into Teams and the  OrganizationThe entire Organization/System,  with intended impact on Individual  Participants and Teams 
Typical Client  (Who calls?)HR/Training Director CEO or Senior Executive, often  from an Operational Unit, working  with a cross-functional team of  selected internal resources
Nature of Relationship Trusted Vendor or Occasional Helper  when requested. Short term.Trusted Strategic Business Partner.  Long term.
What Drives the Agenda Content or Curriculum-Driven Business Results-Driven
Nature of Intervention Program, with a Beginning and an  EndProcess that lasts until results are  achieved
Source of Content The Trainers/Facilitators, in  consultation with clientThe Client, in consultation with  Consultant(s)
Who Makes Decisions Client explains to the Trainers what  needs to be doneClient and Consultant decide  together what needs to be done
Where Curriculum or  Content comes fromComes from Client’s schedule or  data, eg Employee Satisfaction  SurveyComes from data gathered by  Consultant working with Client based resources
Skills Required Training, Group/Individual FacilitationTraining, Group/Individual Facilitation, Organization and Team Development, Data-Gathering &  Diagnosis, Business Acumen, plus  Systems Theory
Client Responsibility Contract with Trainer, Observe or  Participate in Program, Evaluate  ResultsContract with Consultant, work  with Consultant to set mutually agreed on objectives based on  data gathered, work with  consultant throughout the process,  clear obstacles for Internal Team,  hold Consultant accountable for  results, evaluate results

How to Turn a Training Program into an Intervention with System-Wide Impact

If you are a potential client reading this. . . 

When you call an outside resource for help, you have already figured out what you  

want. That may be exactly what you need. But it might not be. Contact a training company  for help and, as I described above, they would probably continue the conversation with you  about the content of the training, the amount of time and resources available, and other  details needed to design a great program – all based on your request.  

When you contact a consulting firm, one that understands what I am saying here,  and ask them for a training program, you may receive a slightly different response. A  consulting approach wants to work with you in determining exactly what you need and  providing that at the best possible balance of impact, price, and demands on people’s time.  

The consultant may ask you a few questions intended to make sure that the training program you are requesting will, in fact, get you the results you need. Their challenge will be to talk with you in a way that you know that they are on your side, wanting to help you  accomplish your objectives, possibly even more than you may have realized. It doesn’t take much to build in at least some system-wide/business impact into a  training program. You may not need to launch a year-long consulting initiative, but there  are several relatively easy and inexpensive things you can do within a training program  request to increase its value to the organization and its mission: 

  • 1. Let the outside resource talk with the Owner of the unit(s) from which the  participants are coming. This gives them The Big Picture from the leader’s  perspective and creates a little more curiosity or interest in them about results. 
  • 2. Train people in their natural work groups. This increases back-home transfer  of learning and permits the use of real-world examples in the training program.
  • 3. Allow for some pre-event data-gathering, like face-to-face or telephone  interviews with a sample of participants—including a few ‘negative’ people. This  gives a VERY useful picture of the reality of those who will be in the room and helps  ‘aim’ the content and level of what they do with you. 
  • 4. Create a small cross-functional team to work with the firm in planning. This  means that there will be at least a critical mass of participants who ‘own’ the design  and the process—and who will come into the room ready to participate to the  maximum. 
  • 5. Invite selected stake-holders from around the unit being trained. I know it  is scary to consider, but this one is magic. By inviting people from the units you  have to interact with to get work done, you multiply the back-at-work application  and value of what happens in the training. 

Hope this helps you think about how to get the most out of your next call to us at  Scherer Leadership International . . . 

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